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Why We Need to Explore Blockchain Technology to Connect Researchers and Research

Robert Peters's picture

We are working toward a day when all researchers can easily and reliably connect their ORCID iD to their contributions. To ensure reliable connections, we in turn rely on persistent identifiers (PIDs) for the contributions. The provenance of the connection and resolution of those PIDs forms the basis of trust in ORCID record information.

While this is all well and great for journal articles, ORCID  sees an urgent need for PIDs to represent and connect researchers to more “things.” Employment, education, qualifications, invited-position, distinctions, membership, service, projects, project proposals, funding, and research resources are just a short list of items that researchers and members want to connect to ORCID iDs.  All of these items have underdeveloped PID infrastructure, if any exists at all. Typically, PIDs resolve to real objects like books and papers. But many of these new types of “things” are social constructs - not physical objects or even digital representations of physical objects. For example: with employment we would never resolve a PID to the actual employment contract but instead to a set of metadata that represents a social construct people use to describe employment.

ORCID is eager to participate in projects that enrich the PID ecosystem. That includes looking at what blockchain can offer us, even if it’s clearly in a tech hype cycle. One such project is Digital Science’s Peer Review Blockchain initiative, which is looking to use blockchain and smart contracts to improve recognition for peer review activities (including connecting them to ORCID records), enable citation of peer review, and increase the transparency of the review process.

Yes, blockchain hype is off the scales, which tends to produce suspicion in those who can count their years in tech by decades. We’ve all seen the tech hype pattern many times before. With the peer-to-peer bubble, Napster, Gnutella, and Kazaa all ceased to exist, but BitTorrent remains. The Internet Y2K bubble had massive failures with Pets.com, Webvan, and Ariba but Amazon.com remains. From this and other technology bubbles, it’s easy to predict failures and hard to predict successes. The tech community quickly enough starts debating potential failures and successes while missing the real potential: LEARNING. Even after the burst, tech bubbles leave behind surpluses in infrastructure. Those who are able to utilize these surpluses and understand paradigm shifts are in the best position to improve services and grow.

We are excited to be starting to work with the community on practical projects exploring the complex blockchain space.  We see potential for delivering new and useful PID types - and in testing the utility versus the hype  of blockchain technology for decentralization, transparency, immutability, and trust in connecting researchers and research. If you’re using - or thinking of using - blockchain in this way, we’d be interested in learning more.